By Olivia Ingle
News Tribune – Jefferson City, Missouri
Area Rotarians and the Missouri National Guard are shouldering a heavy load — tons and tons of vital goods for Panamanians in need.
As a result of their partnership, 28 pallets (45,000 pounds) of goods, including clothing for men, women and children; 35 Personal Energy Transportation (PET) vehicles (hand-driven wheelchairs); and an estimated 300 water purification systems will begin their journey to Panama on Wednesday.
The Missouri National Guard will transport the goods to Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force Base Wednesday. On Thursday, the goods will be transported by the Department of Defense to Charleston, S.C. and then the Air Force will complete the goods’ journey June 21.
The items have been housed in a Jefferson City Oil warehouse on Christy Drive for nearly four months.
The project began nearly three years ago when Rita Esterly, then district governor of Rotary District 6080, directed the group to develop an international project. Esterly and the group chose Panama.
Jim Wieberg, a member of the Breakfast Rotary in Jefferson City, took charge of the project with Mark Naeger and Ken Hussey.
District 6080 partnered with the Missouri National Guard and The Rotary Club of Panama City and its Rotary District 4240. The District 6080 members have been in close communication with Rotary member Vicente Pascual, who has taken charge of the project from Panama.
The first part of the project involved preparing well-baby kits and PETs to ship to Panama in 2012.
“Maternal health and newborn baby care was something they needed,” said Wieberg, a licensed professional counselor at Capital Region Medical Center.
He said Rotary clubs in the district collected enough new mother and baby items to fill 300 well-baby kits, and a company in Columbia donated 35 PETs for people in Panama.
“We sent nine pallets of supplies to Panama,” Wieberg said. “The Navy shipped it by boat.”
The items were shipped through a Navy program, Project Handclasp.
The Rotary Club of Panama City then told Wieberg there was a need for water purification systems in the country.
The Missouri District raised nearly $9,000 for the water purification systems, which Rotary International matched, bringing the total to nearly $17,000.
Wieberg was able to purchase nearly 300 water purification systems, and it took him a year to figure out how to ship them to Panama. Those are the systems shipping out Wednesday.
The Air Force will deliver them, along with the clothing and another 35 donated PETs, through the Denton Program. The program “allows private U.S. citizens and organizations to use space available on U.S. military cargo planes to transport humanitarian goods to countries in need.”
Once the items reach Panama, The Rotary Club of Panama City will organize them and decide where within the country the items will be delivered. Rotary members from District 6080 plan to travel to Panama to help hand out the supplies.
Wieberg said it has already been decided that many of the water purification systems will be set up in villages, schools and neighborhoods of the Darién Province.
“We’re just so blessed,” Wieberg said.
He said everywhere the Rotarians have turned, people have responded.
“We have been persistent in our efforts to meet a need, but we’ve also been patient to allow relationships to bloom and commitments to form both locally and internationally,” Wieberg said.